Phil's 2002 AFL Grand Final Diary
The prelude began with the AFLPA dinner at the Sofitel in Collins
Street on Friday night. Couldn't spot Jack Elliott, but the challengers,
Mike Fitzpatrick and David McKay, were there. Above the hum of the
voting for the Players Association Awards, I heard a bloke say that
Carlton was in deep strife with the salary cap.
'They'll lose two draft picks this year and cop a massive fine',
he said with sufficient conviction to stop 'Swan' McKay in his tracks.
Imagine taking over the reins at Carlton and losing your prime draft
Jack Elliott's a survivor, but the word around the room was that
his days were numbered. The idea is that Collins heads the team,
then resigns to let Mike Fitzpatrick take over at president, said
one bloke. No doubt about 'Collo', is there? Seriously, how could
you run for president when you are the CEO of a privately owned
ground -Colonial- that has an interest in taking home games away
from Optus Oval? That's the thing we like about football!
Having survived Friday night, I arrived in the Southern Stand just
as the umpire was about to lift the ball above his head. Former
Lions captain, Richard Champion was just below me explaining the
reason for the noise and pandemonium to his young daughter. Behind
him, dressed like he'd just ridden in from the bush, was Brownlow
Medallist, Graham Teasdale. Later he'd tell me that he was still
looking for Kevin Sheedy, whose disparaging comments about Teasdale's
Brownlow victory had cut deep. All was ready for another grand final.
I fancied the wet conditions would help the Magpies. I wasn't wrong.
Relentless in their attack on the ball, the Collingwood players
soon knew they were in with a chance. To my left, in his little
cocoon, Brisbane coach, Leigh Matthews, had the look of a man who
sensed the mood was with Collingwood. Matthews doesn't show a lot
of emotion. But he looked nervous.
Outside the box, the Collingwood army was in vociferous form. All
around they screamed in the hope that the umpire would turn a blind
eye to any black and white misdemeanours. 'I'd rather lose by ten
goals than two points. I've never been so nervous', the young bloke
behind me confided to his mate.
|Bad hair day? Savouring the moment at Brunswick Street,
Fitzroy with local residents Red Symons, wife Ellie and one
of their boys.
Lethal Leigh didn't notice. He had eyes only for the football.
If he'd spoken to the cast of statistic gathers around him, he might
have said 'fasten the seat belts, she's gunna be a rocky ride'.
When Anthony Rocca slid inside fifty to mark and goal in the third
quarter, Matthews wrapped those big hands around the phone and barked.
It was a big ask to send Darryl White into the centre bounce against
Rocca. And changing White and Keating off the bench seemed to rob
the Lions of White's brilliance. Keating was rucking well, but Rocca
was causing the Lions plenty of heartache by going forward. And
in a low scoring game his goals might be the difference. Matthews
At half time the queue to the toilets stretched out from the brick
dungeon into the walkway. I decided to wait and pass the time in
conversation with a cluster of people. 'It's raining again. I reckon
we're a chance', said one of the blokes. Through the prism of concrete
and heads a mild drizzle was falling on the MCG turf.
Eventually the game began, but again the Magpies refused to wilt.
By three-quarter time it seemed that Eddie McGuire talking the talk
in the euphoria of another Collingwood premiership was still on
the cards. When Rocca's kick sailed high towards the left hand post
at the Brunton end then wobbled to the right, my considered view
was that the flag was en route to Victoria Park. Surely that was
a goal, I thought. 'No' said the man in the hat as he pointed one
finger to the field umpire and reached for the solitary flag. I
still think it was a goal.
I remember banging one over the left hand post at the Junction
Oval in 1979 against Geelong West in the VFA grand final. Was it
a goal? The umpire said it was, but I still don't know. We won by
a ten points. Funny game football!
Is there life after the Royboys?
Akermanis? How good is he? A sleek, brilliant showman with a kitbag
of words that seem so refreshingly honest and remain unfiltered
by those boring spin-doctors that suppress young footballers. Without
even looking, he spun to the left and yes, over the goal umpire's
head it went. Another couple of feet and the game was still alive.
But it was a goal and Matthews knew it would take a big effort by
With suspense gripping the arena the men in the Lions box began
wrapping up. Their clocks told them only ten seconds remained. A
couple more kicks to waste some time and it was all over. What a
game. The best grand final since who knows when?
Outside, Sydney coach Paul Roos and his wife were making their
way home through the crowd, and everywhere I looked were sad, crest
fallen Magpies. Malthouse had made it compulsory viewing for the
players, but it wasn't the case for these barrackers. Watch the
Lions hoist up the cup? Give us a break!
Already, the Collingwood camp was preparing itself to claim a moral
victory. Who could blame them? They were very good.
But was it right that the front page of the Melbourne papers should
have been devoted to Collingwood's Nathan Buckley?
Collingwood was great. But it was Brisbane's flag. Great sportspeople
understand the importance of respecting the winner. The papers,
I fancy, got it wrong.